Eric Host of Grand Rapids, heading down to Cleveland for a Tigers/Indians game, stops in Toledo to enjoy a Tony Packo's hot dog. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Here’s the surprising bottom line: Toledo’s way cooler than you might think. Our equally gritty but smaller Ohio cousin boasts great museums, a vibrant restaurant scene, skyline views and a brand new Great Lakes history museum. Toledo writer and editor Joseph Schaefer calls the compact industrial city “diet Detroit” — everything’s close at hand. Tired of the same old places? Try Toldeo on for size. To get you going, we offer the following timetable for a day in Glass City.
Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monroe, Toledo (419) 255-8000 / toledomuseum.org
Start your day at a cultural high point! The elegant little Toledo Museum of Art is hosting “The Art of Video Games,” which examines video games as a form of storytelling. You can play games like the original “Pac-Man” or “The Secret of Monkey Island,” check out the history of video gaming, and marvel at some of the ephemera — Comic books! — that accompanied the earliest games. The show closes Sept. 28.
“Video games are amalgam of all forms of art,” says Chris Melissinos, who created the show for the Smithsonian American Art Museum.“They’re made up of illustration, sculpture, orchestration and narrative.”
Museum Cafe, Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monroe, Toledo (419) 255-8000 / toledomuseum.org/dining
Everyone knows prowling a museum can work up an appetite. Happily, you can eat splendidly right at TMA in a delightful space, with offerings that range from poached-salmon BLT on rye to a house-smoked pork and lentil salad. Their kids menu includes “PB&J Shapes” and, for the less adventurous, cheese pizza.
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Black Kite Coffee and Pies, 2499 Collingwood, Toledo (419) 720-5820 / facebook.com/BlackKiteCoffee
Just a few blocks from the museum, where Collingwood Boulevard arches over I-75, you’ll find Black Kite Coffee and Pies. Founded in 2012 by Kristin Kiser, this restaurant and coffeeshop that one regular calls “very Brooklyn” specializes in savory hand pies, not sweet ones. (Sorry, kids!)
Depending on the day, your choices might include curried sweet potato pie or another made from pulled pork, rice and beans. “It’s a limited menu,” says Kiser, “and locally sourced to the extent possible. There are usually four or five options,” including vegetarian ones.
On Saturdays, Kiser does a made-to-order brunch. The coffee, available every day in a variety of brewing methods, is roasted by Toledo’s Flying Rhino Coffee.
National Museum of the Great Lakes, 1701 Front, Toledo (419) 214-5000 / inlandseas.org/museum
This spanking new museum, which only opened in April, is a fantastic two-fer: There’s the museum itself, and then there’s a massive Great Lakes freighter tied up right outside on the Maumee River. With no disrespect to the exhibits inside, getting to clamber onto the 613-foot Col. James M. Schoonmaker is the sort of dizzying thrill every kid growing up near the lakes dreams of, usually in vain.
Built in 1911 and first christened the Willis B. Boyer, “The ship was the premier vessel on the lakes at that time,” says James Lundgren, museum director of operations, and worked for decades in the Cleveland Cliffs fleet. On board, you can snoop around the crew quarters, guest cabins, engine room and pilot house. And the view of the downtown skyline from the deck is great.
Inside the museum, exhibits detail the history of the lakes, from exploration and settlement to shipwrecks, as well as numerous panels on the evolution of maritime technology. Nor are things focused exclusively on Lake Erie. “We cover the entire Great Lakes,” Lundgren says.
Toledo Zoo, 2 Hippo Way, Toledo (419) 385-4040 / toledozoo.org
With 8,200 animals representing 730 species, the Toledo Zoo — ranked in the nation’s top 20 by USA Today Travel — opened three new exhibits this year, all part a year-long celebration of flight.
Penguin Beach, Flamingo Key and the parakeet-focused ’Keet Retreat all made their debut in April. The $3.5 million Penguin Beach, which boasts an underwater viewing chamber, is home to about 18 male and female African Penguins, which stand 27 inches tall and — granted — can’t actually fly. The exotically colored residents at Flamingo Key near the Aviary comprise Caribbean Flamingos and Scarlet Ibis. But don’t fail to duck into the ’Keet Retreat, a free-flight zone for parakeets where, for $1, you can feed the jewel-toned birds.
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Imagination Station, 1 Discovery Way, Toledo (419) 244-2674 / imaginationstationtoledo.org
If you missed “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” when it was at The Henry Ford a year ago, you’re in luck. It’s at Toledo’s Imagination Station through Sept. 21 “Titanic” features 150 artifacts salvaged from the ship’s debris field on the ocean floor, from White Star Line china to a pair of perfectly preserved men’s shoes. Also on view are mock-ups of first-class and third-class cabins and a menacing “iceberg” that’s cold to the touch.
Time to start thinking about dinner before the drive home. We offer two alternatives — one high-end and elegant, the other a cheerful part of American pop-culture:
Rockwell’s, 27 Broadway, Toledo (419) 243-1302 / oh-rockwells.com
Jim and Pat Appold opened Rockwell’s Steak House and Lounge in 2001, “right around the time downtown really started to thrive,” says Rockwell’s dining-room manager, Dawn Yoho. Housed in the 1859, orange-brick Oliver House, Rockwell’s has steak-grilling down to an art. “Our steaks are prepared in an 1,800-degree double broiler and served on a 500-degree plate,” Yoho says. “You can’t go wrong there.” Add an ounce of healthy, clarified butter, and you’re halfway to heaven.
Drink-wise, Rockwell’s prides itself on its martinis, with the Glass City peach martini said to be the most popular. Peaches not your thing? Try the blackberry mojito.
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Tony Packo’s, 1902 Front St., Toledo (419) 691-6054 / tonypacko.com
Not every restaurant gets immortalized on a popular TV comedy. Tony Packo’s, Toledo’s favorite Hungarian joint since 1932, won an enduring place in American cultural history on the CBS hit “M*A*S*H,” when the famously cross-dressing Corp. Max Klinger (Jamie Farr, originally from Toledo) remarked that Tony Packo’s had the “greatest Hungarian hot dogs — 35 cents.”
Today you can still dine on Hungarian dogs, albeit at a slightly higher price ($3.15), stuffed cabbage, fried pickles or that Old World favorite, chicken paprikash.
New in Toledo
“The Art of Video Games”
Through Sept. 28
Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monroe, Toledo
10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Wed., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thurs.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.
(parking $5 per car)
“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition”
Through Sept. 21
1 Discovery Way, Toledo
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun.
$10 adults, $9 seniors,
$8 kids 3-12
Flamingo Key and ’Keet Retreat
Toledo Zoo, 2 Hippo Way, Toledo
10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
$15 adults, $12 seniors and kids 2-11, $2 off for Lucas County residents
National Museum of the Great Lakes & Col. James M. Schoonmaker
1701 Front, Toledo
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat.; noon-5 p.m. Sun.
Museum only: $8 adults, $7 seniors and kids 6-18
Museum & freighter: $12 adults, $11 seniors and kids 6-18